A new and likely tolled Pattullo Bridge won’t open before 2018 at the earliest, according to internal TransLink estimates.
That timeline calling for procurement in 2013 and a construction start in 2015 is contained in reports obtained by Black Press under Freedom of Information and amounts to a three-year delay for the project.
But even those dates are starting to look doubtful because TransLink is now more than a year behind schedule in launching a promised round of public consultations on the new bridge’s design.
The delay is largely due to months of wrangling between TransLink officials, who insist a new bridge is needed, and the province’s transportation ministry, which argued as recently as last spring to instead refurbish the existing 74-year-old bridge to save money and avoid the need for tolls.
TransLink spokesperson Erin Dermer said outreach sessions are being planned by the end of this year to update the public on the status of the project in advance of formal consultations.
“Our plan is to undertake public consultations in the early spring of 2012,” she said.
Those consultations had been originally set for September of 2010 until the province asked they be postponed while ministry staff reviewed the plans.
Dermer said TransLink’s decision last May to build a new bridge has not wavered.
“Our intention is certainly to replace the bridge,” she said.
She said it’s “premature” to discuss tolls but a staff report says the new bridge will be “a toll bridge in the absence of alternative senior government funding.”
No decision has been made on whether TransLink will propose building a four- or six-lane new bridge and Dermer could not say whether that will happen in time for the spring consultations.
“We are evaluating both the four- and six-lane options,” she said, adding TransLink is working closely with staff from both the cities of Surrey and New Westminster.
Also still to be determined is the alignment of the new bridge and how it would connect to the South Fraser Perimeter Road in Surrey and routes through New Westminster.
A cost-benefit analysis tabled by consultants in March found a six-lane replacement bridge will provide the most value and best connections. It would also allow the potential for some bus- or truck-only lanes.
A four-lane replacement would make the notoriously narrow bridge safer but would deliver only “modest” traffic flow improvements and wouldn’t provide capacity for growth.
TransLink officials had vowed in 2010 to fast-track the bridge and said then it could open as soon as 2015.
It’s been nearly 10 years since an ICBC report flagging safety concerns with speeders on the Pattullo Bridge first spurred politicians to look for ways to make it safer or rebuild it.
If the new bridge does open by 2018, it will be a decade after the TransLink board first voted in 2008 to build it, discarding the possibility of a cheaper fix of the existing span after years of studies.
The cheaper fix would have been to take one lane out and turn the Pattullo into a three-lane bridge with a counterflow lane, worsening congestion. Consultants found there was no way to make it safe while keeping four lanes.
The bridge is 12 metres wide, far tighter than the 19-metre width for a four-lane bridge built to modern standards today.
And only a new bridge will address earthquake safety risks.
“It’s gone on slower than anybody would have liked,” New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright said, predicting even the 2018 target will be challenging.
“The sooner they do it the better.”
He said TransLink can’t simply plug a six-lane bridge into existing New Westminster roads or gridlock will result.
The larger bridge is only possible if it’s built in concert with key sections of the North Fraser Perimeter Road, he said.
Some New Westminster residents hope the bridge will be tolled – otherwise it will pour even more traffic into that city’s congested downtown as drivers avoid tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge.
Many wish the new Pattullo could be placed to divert traffic around their city.
“It was like heaven when it got shut down,” Wright said, referring to the two-week closure of the bridge due to a fire in 2009.
Many people have died in crashes on the bridge or its approaches over the years.
The bridge’s centre lanes are closed each night to reduce the risk of head-on crashes.
Pattullo Bridge timeline
Hover over timeline dots, then click bubbles for more info on the history of efforts to fix or rebuild the Pattullo Bridge.